A new and fascinating chapter in the history of the Mediterranean Sea adds interest to an archaeological settlement that, over decades of studies and excavations, has provided a rich and sophisticated treasure trove of artifacts, evidence of the presence on the small island of Ustica of an evolved and affluent community, whose existence was abruptly interrupted around 1200 B.C. by a natural or anthropic event still shrouded in mystery.

An important discovery resulting from geophysical investigations carried out in the “Village of the Faraglioni,” the ancient settlement on the island of Ustica dating back to the Middle Bronze Age (Sicily), sheds new light on the construction techniques of defensive structures in Mediterranean prehistory.

The study was conducted by a team of researchers from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), in collaboration with the Archaeological Park of Himera, Solunto e Iato of the Sicily Region, the Suor Orsola Benincasa University of Naples, the Villa Literaria Association of Ustica, the Laboratory Museum of Earth Sciences of Ustica (LABMUST), the University of Siena, the Department of Mathematics and Geosciences of the University of Trieste, and the Ministry of Culture.

The research results were recently published in the international scientific journal Journal of Applied Geophysics and reveal details of an antemural structure as long as the main walls of the Village of the Faraglioni, thus reinforcing the hypothesis of an articulated and sophisticated defensive system.

The Village of the Faraglioni thrived between 1400 and 1200 B.C. on a stretch of coast protruding from the sea in the northern part of the island, explains Domenico Targia, director of the Archaeological Park of Himera, Solunto e Iato.

Considered by archaeologists as one of the best-preserved Mediterranean settlements of its time, it was characterized by an orderly urban plan with dozens of huts built along narrow streets and a powerful wall, 250 meters long and between 4 and 5 meters high, surrounding the settlement to defend it from attacks and incursions.

The research campaign, involving geologists, geophysicists, architects, and archaeologists, began with the need to study with non-invasive techniques some semi-buried structures emerging in areas of the terrain outside the defensive wall.

We brought scientific instruments used by INGV researchers for geophysical studies, such as ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and electrical resistivity tomography (ERT), to Ustica. Thanks to them, it was possible to precisely locate, in a completely non-invasive manner, the deep foundations of the antemural structure, as well as the wall, which acted as the first defensive barrier, adds INGV researcher Vincenzo Sapia.

According to scientists, this settlement constitutes an exemplary case in the Mediterranean context of the Bronze Age, demonstrating that even at that time, there must have been an urban plan, with the task of orderly distributing huts and access roads, and designing a long and high defensive wall along with other antemural structures, such as those now discovered through geophysical research.

Franco Foresta Martín, director of the Laboratory Museum of Earth Sciences of Ustica and INGV associate, states: Our discovery opens a new window to understanding this ancient settlement, suggesting a defensive complexity beyond expectations. Geophysical technology has allowed us to unveil hidden layers of history, paving the way for future research without the invasive use of excavations.

The new discoveries fuel interest in this extraordinary site. Now we want to deepen our research, answering still open questions about the construction and operation of the defensive system, and outline a clearer vision of the daily life of this advanced community of the Middle Bronze Age, adds architect Anna Russolillo and archaeologist Pierfrancesco Talamo.

This strongly multidisciplinary study, concludes INGV researcher Sandro de Vita, demonstrates how the application of non-invasive survey methods, combined with geological, geomorphological, and surface archaeological observations, can accurately and punctually indicate the areas where direct investigations should be carried out, avoiding time-consuming and costly trial-and-error excavation campaigns.


Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia | Anna Russolillo, Franco Foresta Martin, et al., Unveiling a hidden fortification system at “Faraglioni” Middle Bronze Age Village of Ustica Island (Palermo, Italy) through ERT and GPR prospections, Journal of Applied Geophysics, Volume 220, 2024, 105272, doi.org/10.1016/j.jappgeo.2023.105272

  • Share this article:

Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.